Human Wales

“All who would study the conditions of the worker in modern industrial Wales should purchase Human Wales,” said the Daily Mail in 1907.

grsimsgaietyThe author, George R. Sims was an English journalist, poet, dramatist and novelist and had come to Wales in 1907 to write a series of articles. He had been commissioned by the Western Mail and Evening Express to look at how the people live in the cities, on the plains and the towns on the hills of Wales.

He was well qualified for the job. “No man,” said the Express “has devoted more time and attention to the study of the social conditions of the people.”

Sims was a prolific writer covering numerous topics and had written extensively on the conditions of the poor particularly in London. He also published a number of ballads attempting to draw attention to the predicaments of the poor. His most famous being “It is Christmas Day in the Workhouse” (1877) which has been widely parodied.

As he travelled around Wales collecting material for his articles Sims sometimes added descriptions of his travels:

“I spent Empire Day [1] motoring among the Welsh mountains. A splendid car, whose motto was ‘Excelsior’ in the matter of climbing, was most kindly placed at my disposal by Mr. Edward England, of Cardiff, and Mr. England, jun., drove me, taking the torrents and precipices with a nerve and a skill that won my intense admiration. So with England at the helm – wasn’t that splendid for Empire Day? – and the British Flag flying at the prow, we rode triumphantly into Tonypandy, and so to the heart of the valley. There such a terrible storm burst over us that we made a wild dash for a colliery, and the manager very courteously had us lowered to the bottom of a shaft, where we remained snug and dry among the black diamonds until the storm was over. We took the British Flag down the mine with us to keep it dry. It was the only time it was lowered on that day of days.

“I have the greatest difficulty this week in preparing the weekly salad which it is my privilege to offer to my kind friends in front. But it is all the fault of wonderful Wales. I have been in the Principality all the week, and am still there while these lines are being written. I have been whirled about Wales, and putting in some nice, healthy mountain-climbing under the expert guidance of my friend Mr. John W. Evans, of the Western Mail. I have been to Swansea, Merthyr Tydfil and Dowlais, Ebbw Vale and Tredegar, Pontypridd, Tonypandy, and the Rhondda Valley. I have been down a coal mine and up in a balloon. I have been attending eisteddfodau and Hibernian sports, to say nothing of a service in a Chinese Temple and a Somali wedding in the Arab quarter of Cardiff. These things are absorbing, and leave little time for the serious occupation of life. But I hope to be back in London on Sunday, after which it will be my endeavour to drop back again into the ordinary routine of conventional nose-to-the-grindstone life.”

Part of that grindstone was finishing Human Wales. “My endeavour,” he said in the introduction “will be to present a true and faithful picture of things seen in certain areas and districts, where the need for reform is frankly acknowledged by all who have become acquainted with the facts, officially or otherwise.” And he added “This, then, is a record of a journey through a land of contrasts in which wealth and poverty gaze at each other across the way, in which the mighty mountains towering to the sky look down upon miserable hovels in which human beings herd in squalor, and sometimes sleep, packed together in damp, dark dens, into which the light of day has never penetrated.”

Human Wales is something of a grim read but deserves its place in list of publications about Wales. Get the free e-book Human Wales by George R. Sims

[1] 24 May. It later became Commonwealth Day

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